Interview with Juan Marbarro, author of “Stoic Climbing: Finding Wisdom On The Rock”

Here is the interview with the climber Juan Marbarro, author of the book “Stoic Climbing" and "Climbing and Tao", both available on Amazon.

Well, to start at the beginning, who is Juan Marbarro?

I’m an average climber, one of those you can find enjoying the experience in any climbing sector. It’s as simple as that. And, in addition, based on these experiences, I have written a couple of books in which I like to relate climbing with philosophy, and therefore, with life.

That's very interesting, why do you think philosophy can be brought to climbing?

I’ve always thought of climbing as a metaphor for life, as have many of the people who approach rock. So, starting from this and from the fact that philosophies (at least the ones I like) are oriented to life and to live better, I tied my own ends and decided to dedicate myself to look for places where climbing could be connected with philosophy and its concepts.

And you found this connection between climbing, life and philosophy?

Of course I did. Climbing became the “playground”, the “laboratory” where I could experiment with the ancient wisdom that I was unraveling as I researched. In the climbing experience we are presented with a multitude of situations and emotions that are the perfect opportunity to experiment with what philosophies are teaching. That is, in climbing, just like in life, you are going to have to deal with frustrations, fears or insecurities (to name a few limits of the mind) and philosophy has a couple of tips for when these situations arise in life. So, instead of waiting for life to throw these types of situations at us, be it in the different areas as relational, professional, financial, etcetera, we can use climbing as “mental” training for these types of situations. To send a project requires patience, manage frustration and go beyond our limitations, as well as to carry out any project in your life.

Could we say that you write "philosophy for climbers"?

Well, thinking about it a little bit, the truth is that I couldn’t tell you if I write philosophy for climbers or climbing for philosophers hahaha. The only thing I know is that I have tried to unite two things that for me have been essential in my life and in my personal development. Philosophy puts the wisdom and climbing is the path where to apply this wisdom and to internalize it, make it part of my “operating system”. However, I have received feedback from readers who are not climbers and have also been able to enjoy and learn from the book. It has also made them want to try climbing, it was inevitable hahaha.

Climbing is the way?

Yes, for me it is. It is one of the paths I have chosen not only to spend time in nature, do physical exercise or meet people, but also to get to know myself, experiment and learn to manage emotions. Some people choose yoga, martial arts, the study of philosophy or meditation among others. Climbing is one more way to make the journey.

Is climbing a kind of meditation?

For me it is. It is something that requires absolute concentration, balance between tension and relaxation, and emptying the mind. It’s very difficult to climb if your mind is thinking about what you did yesterday, what you’re going to eat today, or wondering if you’re too high up. For me it is easier to concentrate in a kind of meditative state while climbing than sitting or trying to concentrate on my breathing. Maybe someday with climbing practice I’ll get to take that meditative state with me wherever I go.

Coming back to you, why did you start writing?

I don’t remember why I started, since I’ve been doing it since I was a child. I can rather talk about why I decided to publish some of what I write, and specifically about these topics. Besides the fact that writing is a personal exercise of reflection, they seemed to me very powerful ideas that some people were already talking about, so I thought it was a good idea to give structure and consistency to my notes and share them with whoever is interested.

I can't find much information about you in the social media...

It’s true, as an author I’m not exposing myself too much to be recognized. I like to keep a low profile and remain just another climber you meet at the foot of the route, living the experience. For the moment I don’t need the label of writer or philosopher, it’s enough for me to be one more among those who enjoy it. Even so, it is not my intention to be “hidden”, I am available for anyone who wants to contact me for a chat, climbing or any other interesting proposal.

Why did you decide to relate climbing with stoicism in your book?

Stoicism is one of the philosophies that I find most accessible. And by accessible I mean that they are easy to understand and have a practical application. That is precisely why it is becoming so popular nowadays. There are quite a few books on the subject and even online study groups dedicated to exploring it in depth. While many of the ideas they explain are not unique to their philosophy but can be found in other currents or even in psychology, it seems to me that the Stoics did a great job in clearly expressing these often complicated ideas. That is why, throughout the book, I quote extensively from Stoics of reference such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca or Epictetus. They did a great job synthesizing Greek wisdom so that we can now apply it to climbing and life.

And why Taoism in the second book?

Taoism always attracted my curiosity and my desire to delve into Eastern philosophy from its base. The Tao Te Ching, the referent book of philosophical Taoism, encodes wisdom in its short but ambiguous and profound verses that only prove accessible after several thorough readings. After my experience with the first book, I believed that through the prism of climbing I could make the understanding of this philosophy more accessible, both to me and to any reader. For example, yin-yang is something everyone knows about but few people really know what it means and how it can be represented in daily life. Or Wu Wei, non-action, which is a concept that blows our minds in the West, where everything is do, do, do.

What are your projects now?

For now I’m going to take a break from writing and publishing to dedicate myself more to experimenting and deepening. In other words, to enjoy climbing and the experiences it brings to me. And also to enjoy what the books are bringing me: connecting with people to climb with and with whom to discover and experience both new routes and new paths.

Finally, any advice on how to put philosophy into practice, or into life?

The answer lies in the question itself; to put it into practice, what you have to do is to practice. That’s what these books are about, transcending the mere intellectual understanding of philosophical concepts and putting them into practice through climbing. Why wait for life to put you in front of your greatest fears if you can practice first how to manage fear or other emotions in climbing?

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